Allegany Communications Sports

The first and very last of the multi-sports stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s, also known as cookie-cutter stadiums, will be no more, as having concluded its environmental impact evaluation, the National Park Service announced last week that demolition of RFK Stadium can officially proceed so the land can be redeveloped for possibly a new stadium to house the Washington Commanders, who currently play their games in Maryland.

“RFK Stadium is located on NPS land, however the District of Columbia owns the stadium, and Events DC is responsible for its operation and management,” the National Park Service said in a press release; all of which is important to remember in looking back on the legacy of the stadium.

The Kennedy Administration, afterall, in very clear terms, told the Washington Redskins’ racist owner at the time, George Preston Marshall, that his team would not be permitted to use what was then D.C. Stadium until he integrated his team, which he begrudgingly did in 1962.

Located at the foot of East Capitol Street NE, RFK last hosted an NFL game in 1996 before the Redskins relocated their home games to Landover in what was then known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.

RFK Stadium, named after assassinated senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1969, opened in 1961 and what made it so cutting edge for the time was its movable seats on a track along the third base line that swung into center field to create a vertical football field. Cookie-cutter replicas soon began to sprout in Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

The stadium’s roof has a dip in one section that allowed for higher and more seating along the foul lines for baseball, then increased seating options along the sidelines and behind one end zone for football.

My Uncle Bill took all of the cousins in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to see Frank Howard hit home runs and the great Ted Williams manage the Senators there. In 1984, the great Sandy Koufax called me everything but a child of God there (he didn’t like my question) following a Crackerjack Oldtimers Game, and, of course, we saw the Washington Redskins of Sonny Jurgensen, George Allen, Joe Gibbs and John Riggins win championships and captivate and unify our nation’s capital there as no entity had or has done before or since.

The stadium opened to host the Redskins and the expansion Senators as the original Senators had left town to become the Minnesota Twins. The expansion Senators themselves would leave town following the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers.

Major League Soccer’s DC United would share the stadium with the Redskins for a season before becoming the main tenant in the late-1990s and then the Washington Nationals would share the stadium from 2005 to 2007 before moving into newly constructed Nationals Park along the Anacostia River in southeast D.C..

The Washington Federals also played at RFK in the United States Football League (USFL) in 1983-84.

Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and George W. Bush threw ceremonial first pitches there, there were 119 concerts played there, Frank Howard clouted three home runs into the center-field upper deck there and Art Monk became the leading career pass receiver in NFL history there.

There was nothing spectacular about RFK Stadium, good or bad, though historian Philip Lowry did say it seemed as though it had been “designed by Stalin.”

Yes, they were cookie cutters, but when you were in each one of the stadiums, it was clear that each one had their own unique features to make you instinctively aware that you were in Three Rivers, Riverfront, Veterans, Atlanta-Fulton County, Busch or RFK.

I don’t miss any of them on their own merits, though I never minded being in any one of them and, in fact, rather enjoyed being in all of them.

I’ll always have fond memories of seeing baseball games in RFK, because, of course, I was a kid, we were with my uncle and with each other and when you’re a kid, each moment at a big-league game stays in your heart and your memory forever. In a weird way, I even enjoyed seeing the veins coming out of Sandy Koufax’s neck as he belittled me in front of some of the greatest baseball players in history.

Seeing a Redskins game at RFK? There was nothing in the world like it, because, as we said, nothing in the world unites the D.C. area the way a great Washington football team did or, perhaps, will do again. Being in RFK on a fall Sunday afternoon, singing “Hail to the Redskins!” with 54,000 deliriously happy fans was an experience like no other.

And though I was not in attendance for any of them, my feeling is the greatest moments in RFK Stadium history would have to have been the Redskins’ NFC Championship victories over Dallas in 1972 and over Dallas in 1983 as the NFL Films footage is vintage of the stadium virtually shaking and moving as the fans chanted “We want Dallas!” prior to the hated Cowboys taking the field.

The Skins also had championship wins in RFK against San Francisco (‘84), Minnesota (‘88) and Detroit (‘92) and while they were every bit as meaningful, there is nothing that can compare for a Washingtonian than beating Dallas with all the marbles on the line.

Maybe there wasn’t anything particularly special about the place. But what happened inside the place was, and remains, special enough to last a lifetime.

Hail to old RFK …

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on X at @MikeBurkeMDT